Steph Catley: My life so far

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When I was six I used to follow my big brother around everywhere; I copied everything he did, everything he said and on most occasions everything he wore too. 

Image Credit: Melbourne Victory Women

I was the little brother he never had because I enjoyed sports probably a little more than he did.

So I was doing my usual annoying-little-sister act and had followed him down to his under nine football training at East Bentleigh Jr. Soccer Club. My mother was sitting on the sidelines with a few friends she knew from my primary school, some of their boys played in the under seven team who were also training that night. At the time, I was sprinting up and down the sideline showing all the mothers how I could twist and turn with the ball without falling over. They all suggested that I should jump into the training session with the under seven boys on that very same night. Although the boys seemed pretty confused by it all, they soon adapted to having a girl in the team and we went on and had many successful seasons together, including three undefeated seasons. I’d never expected or craved to join a football team at that young age, but it was without a doubt the best decision I’ve ever made.

After spending the first six years of my football career running around with the East Bentleigh Sharks, the boys soon became too big and I was getting knocked around a little too much. The coach at the time, Eric Harbis, had organised me to trial for the VSF academy program which pushed me into my first ever representative team and officially began my career. Eric sadly passed away not long ago.

Eric was an intelligent, wonderful, kind-hearted man who has unknowingly guided me through so many hard times in my own life. I am overwhelmingly thankful for his guidance and encouragement to follow my dreams in all of my football aspirations.

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I soon moved onto Sandringham Jnr. Soccer Club where I spent the next few years representing the junior girls’ team, the summer development squad and also their Women’s Premier League team.

I soon began to represent Victoria at the Friendship Games held in Sydney and Coffs Harbour; each year it became a little more competitive and a little more serious. The prospect of being selected for an Under 17 National Team camp arose and I wanted nothing more than to be chosen.

I fractured my elbow during the competition and was so determined to be noticed that I strapped it up, covered it in foam and got one of the other girls to lace up my football boots. Despite the many warnings the physio gave me, there was nothing that could stop me getting out there, all I really needed were my legs. I played against Western Australia with a dodgy and very painful elbow and found myself training with the Under 17 Australian team not long after.

I ended up playing in the Under 17 Asian Cup which was held in Thailand. We had a very strong team but failed to qualify; we were heartbreakingly close but were upstaged by Japan in the last game.

I had been training with the Victorian NTC (National Training Centre) which consisted of two teams; the ‘Older’ and the ‘Younger’ girls.

Throughout the year, the coach at the time Matt Sheppard would throw me into the mix with the ‘Older’ girls. I remember always being extremely nervous and scared when I was asked to train with them. My now team-mate Louisa Bisby is a name that comes to mind when I remember those nerves; she was and is still such a brilliant player. But she was very vocal during these sessions, something I wasn’t particularly used to. I copped a few sprays from her throughout NTC that year and although at the time I wanted to run away and hide, I thank her for pushing me because it was these moments that made me go home and work on the mistakes I had made at training so that the next time she had no reason to yell at me (Sorry Bisby!).

That ‘Older’ girls group ended up being moulded into the Melbourne Victory team to compete in the Westfield W-League. I was training with the team but was too young to be a squad member in 2008 so I was contracted as a fifteen year old the next time around. I made my debut against Perth Glory at Etihad stadium as a curtain raiser for the men’s Melbourne Victory match and it was an experience I will never forget.

In 2011 I was selected to compete in the Asian Cup with the Young Matildas. We failed to qualify yet again and it was a shattering emotion that I had become pretty sick of feeling. I have one more campaign with the Young Matildas and this time around, I guarantee we won’t be feeling that again!

Soon after the U17 Asian Cup I was brought into my first Matildas camp, it was an unbelievable experience. I’d never been so nervous about anything in my entire life. Playing alongside the likes of Thea Slatyer, Sarah Walsh and many, many other current Matildas that I’d always watched and heard about as a youngster was such an honour.

After a few more camps in Canberra at the AIS, I was selected to head to Wollongong to face New Zealand where I made my senior team debut. I’ve since travelled to Japan and the USA with the Matildas and have loved every single second of it.

I continued to play for Melbourne Victory in the 2010/11 season and the season after that. I now find myself heading into my fourth year of W-League and I am just as excited about this year as I was back in 2008.

We head to Perth this weekend for Round One. They have many returning Matildas and a few new internationals so we will be expecting a tough contest. We’ve had a few hurdles to overcome during our pre-season but have since re-focused and prepared to the best of our ability and are itching to begin season 2012 of the Westfield W-League.

Read all of Steph’s columns for The Football Sack. 

Winner of 2011/12 Female Footballer of the Year in the Australian Football Fan Awards, young star for Melbourne Victory Women Stephanie Catley is a current Matilda and is a born and bred Victorian.
Catch the W-League every week at your local groundor if you can’t make the game watch it on ABC1.

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